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Doctors Explain Heart Condition That Led to VP Cheney's Recent Hospitilization

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was treated and released Wednesday from a Washington hospital after experiencing an irregular heartbeat. Mr. Cheney suffered from the most common type of irregularity, called atrial fibrillation. VOA's Carol Pearson tells us what this condition is and why it is taken seriously.

U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney missed a campaign event October 15 because of heart problems. Instead, he was taken to a Washington hospital.

Doctors concluded he was suffering from atrial fibrillation, an irregular beat in the upper chambers of the heart.

People like Ray Caspillo, who also had it, says it feels like his heart is flopping out of his chest. "You cannot breathe right," Capillo said. "You misbreathe. You can feel your chest like it is closing in."

"Atrial fibrillation is a major cause of stroke and heart failure, "Dr. Thomas Wang said. Dr. Wang is a cardiologist who has studied atrial fibrillation.

The condition becomes more common with age. Three to five percent of people over 65 have it.

One study showed obesity increases the risk of atrial fibrillation by 50 percent.

Treatments can include medications that slow the rapid heart rate and blood thinners that reduce the risk of clotting.

Doctors can wrap a catheter around the heart and use microwaves to destroy abnormal electrical pathways in the heart.

Electric shock is also used to reset the heart to a normal rhythm.

Doctors are most concerned about atrial fibrillation in patients who have damage from previous heart attacks.

The vice president has a history of heart disease. He had four heart attacks, quadruple bypass surgery, and a defibrillator implanted to monitor and regulate his heartbeat.

He has resumed his normal activities.